Sunday, December 10, 2017


For Agnes (Nan) Neil Thomson Speirs

     Today I missed my mother. 

     So, maybe you’re asking, does this really merit a blog post?  Well, yes, for me it does. Let’s start with the facts:  

     My mother died three-and-a-half years ago at almost 94.  

     I loved her.  

     We were not close in the usual sense, although, beginning in my adolescence, we did a long and complicated dance that lasted until the brink of her death.

     She lived a mile from me during the last 12 years of her life, so we spent a lot of time together and, during her final three or four years, I did a lot of caregiving.

     I loved her, and I rarely found a way past the thicket of her defenses, which mostly took the form of offenses.

     It pained me to write that last sentence.

     Today I missed my mother.  I missed her fiercely.  I missed her in a way that took my breath away.  I was in my bedroom folding laundry, thinking about nothing.  And then I was missing my mother. 

     Perhaps this seems unremarkable to you - you who are/were able to talk with your moms about things that are/were important to you.  But for me it is always a surprise.  At first, after she passed, I felt mostly exhausted and relieved, and sad for her because of the awfulness of her final months. 

     And then, every now and again, after days or weeks of barely thinking of her, I started to have these moments.  Moments of sharp missing. 

    At these times, I ask myself:  Who am I missing?  Is there a body memory of the woman who held me and fed me and read to me during the early pre-memory years?  Certainly, by the time we were interacting in a way I would remember, she had shown herself to be threatened and confused by a separate me, a me who had opportunities that she had never had, and I was struggling to cope with her defenses to genuine and meaningful interaction.  I was learning that talking, for some, is a way of avoiding intimacy.

     Sometimes I think I have always been missing my mother.  Sometimes I wish I could have known her as a girl, as a young woman -- before life took its toll.

     Before she had to leave school at 14.

     Before her city was bombed during WWII.

     Before she had to leave her job upon marrying at age 23.

     Before my father decided that the family – my mom, my older brother, and I in utero - should move with him across an ocean to Canada, and then to the U.S.

      Before she realized she would never see her parents again.  

      My daughters, who did not carry the baggage with which I was laden, had a different relationship with my mother.  The things she had found threatening in me – my independence, my education – she celebrated in them.  I am happy that they were able to know her in a different way.

       Here is an excerpt from something that my daughter Anne wrote shortly after my mother died:

      "If she had not been born in Glasgow in the interim of two world
      wars; if she had not had to leave school like all girls and most boys
      of her social class to become a working member of the family; if she
      had not been expected to marry and bear children as her sole 
      occupation; if she had been of a different time, my gran might have 
      lived a life not so unlike mine.  She was an extraordinary woman.”

      Perhaps Anne, who was able to see the extraordinary in her grandmother, saw my mother more clearly than I.  My mother's life was not what it might have been had she been born a few decades later or been able to choose to stay in school or where and when to work or where to live.  And yet, I can see now in retrospect, that she did the best that she could, or, as her fellow Scots would say, she made a pretty good fist of it. 

         And so today, I raise a figurative glass to her perseverance. Today I miss her in all of her prickly complexity.